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Creatine Monohydrate vs HCL

Creatine Monohydrate vs HCL

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So you are looking for a competitive edge. You have been training hard and eating right, but you want to make sure you are doing everything you can to see maximal results.

You have probably heard that creatine is an effective supplement for increasing muscle mass and strength.

This has brought you to your local supplement store. You are standing in front of the creatine aisle, and you see a wall of creatine supplements.  

Which one should you choose?

Creatine monohydrate or HCL (hydrochloride)?

But which form of creatine is best?

Here’s a look at the pros and cons of each type to help you make an informed decision.

Let’s get into it.

What is Creatine?

Most people are familiar with creatine as a sports supplement (NOT a steroid), but few know what it actually is or how it works.

Creatine is a compound that is produced in the body from three different amino acids: glycine, arginine, and methionine. 

Creatine is made from Arginine, glycine, Methionine.

You also can get creatine through high-protein foods like red meat and fish. (1)

Your kidneys and liver can “make” about 1 gram of creatine each day. (2)

Your kidneys and liver make about 1 gram of creatine per day.

Considering you eat a high protein diet, you can typically get about 1 gram of creatine per day from your diet.(1)

About 95% of the body’s creatine, that we get through food or we make on our own is found in skeletal muscle. The other 5% is distributed in the brain, liver, kidney, and testes. (3)

The reason your muscle gets 95% of all the creatine is that creatine plays an important role in energy production. It is used to help supply energy to cells, particularly muscle cells.

95% of creatine is stored within your muscles.

Although creatine can be made by your body and it is possible to get creatine from food, research dating back to the 1920s showed that consuming more creatine will increase the amount of creatine in the muscle. 

From the 1920s to today creatine has become one of the most well-researched supplements with evidenced-based benefits including,

  • Build muscle (4)
  • Improving strength (5, 6, 7)
  • Improving performance specifically during short high intensity periods (7)
  • Improve brain functions and protect against neurological diseases (8)

Even though we make it and eat it, adding creatine to our supplement regimen is proven to increase the amount of creatine in your muscle which will lead to more energy production capabilities.

Sounds pretty good right? That is not all, the FDA as of 2020, has recognized creatine monohydrate as safe. A “safe” supplement is what would be considered GRAS or generally recognized as safe. In other terms, the general public could benefit from the use of creatine. (9)

So you can see why athletes and bodybuilders choose to use creatine. There is a ton of potential upside with little downside.

How Does Creatine Work?

We are going deep in biochemistry, but after you read this you will know exactly how creatine works. To explain how creatine works, we first have to cover how you get energy from the food you eat. 

The food you eat provides you with one of three macronutrients or macromolecules, think big, these are protein (amino acids), fats (fatty acids), and carbohydrates (sugars) which are then broken down into smaller molecules that the body can use for energy.

Protein breaks down into amino acids and carbohydrate's breakdown into glucose and fats breakdown into fatty acids.

For example, if you eat a banana, which is primarily made of carbohydrates or fructose, that banana is converted to glucose (sugar) by your digestive system.

Glucose is just a simple sugar molecule that the body can easily use for energy.

Once the glucose enters your bloodstream it travels to your cells where it will be used for energy or stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen.

Glycogen is just a string of glucose molecules that the body can easily break down to use for energy when needed.

Protein fats and carbs all breakdown into glucose which your body can use to create ATP.

The process of breaking down macromolecules into smaller molecules is what we call metabolism.

Converting glucose from the banana to ATP or adenosine triphosphate is how your cells make energy.

This process is called cellular respiration, and it happens in the mitochondria of your cells.

The process of cellular respiration breaks down the ATP molecule to create energy that can be used by your muscle cells.

Glucose and glycogen are used in the mitochondria to create ATP.

The result of this process is your muscle cells now have some energy and what is left is, water, carbon dioxide, and ADP (adenosine diphosphate).

During exercise, muscles use ATP to contract to leave you with ADP.

ATP is used up faster than your body can produce it. When this happens, your muscles start to feel tired and you hit what is known as a muscular failure.

To make it so you can do more than one pulls up your cells will recycle the ADP molecule back into ATP using what is called the phosphate shuttle system.

This is where creatine comes in, creatine works as a backup energy system by donating a phosphate group to ADP to turn it back into ATP. This will give you an extra rep or two when your body has run out of ATP. (10)

Creatine helps to increase the body’s stores of phosphocreatine, which can then be used to produce ATP. In this way, creatine can help to improve athletic performance by providing the body with additional energy. (4)

What is Creatine Monohydrate 

Creatine monohydrate is the most popular and most researched form of creatine. According to Market Research Reports INC., the global demand for creatine was 224.81 million in 2020.

Creatine monohydrate is made up of a creatine molecule bonded to a water molecule.

By supplementing with creatine monohydrate you can increase the muscle’s stores of phosphocreatine which can be broken down to provide you with ATP.

The benefits of creatine monohydrate have been well researched with a scientific consensus on the following:

  • Increasing muscle mass (4)
  • Improving strength (5,6,7)
  • Improving performance specifically during short high intensity periods (7)
  • Improve brain functions and protect against neurological diseases (8)

Creatine monohydrate has been shown to increase muscle size, strength, and power. Creatine monohydrate is also the most cost-effective form of creatine.(4,5,6,7,8)

What is Creatine HCL 

Creatine HCL or creatine hydrochloride is a newer form of creatine that has become popular in recent years.

Creatine HCL is made by bonding creatine to hydrochloric acid.

Creatine HCL Molecule

The claim is that creatine HCL is more soluble in water and in theory you will have a higher absorption rate. 

A 2010 study showed that a dose of creatine HCL was 40 times more soluble in water than creatine monohydrate. (11)

However, just because creatine HCL is more soluble in water than creatine monohydrate, that does not mean there are extra benefits.

The research is limited on creatine HCL compared to creatine monohydrate, but the available studies show that they are both effective in increasing muscle mass and strength. (12)

Creatine HCL is more expensive than creatine monohydrate and there is no evidence to support that it is better absorbed or has any extra benefits.

Creatine in Food 

Creatine is found naturally in food, the most common being red meat and fish.

Below are the 5 highest creatine-containing food sources.

The 5 foods with the highest amount of creatine. 1. Herring with 3.0-4.5 grams of creatine per pound. 2. Pork, with grams of creatine per pound. 3. Salmon with grams of creatine per pound. 4. Beef with 2 grams of creatine per pound. 5 Tuna with grams of creatine per pound.
  1. Herring – 3 – 4.5 g/pound 
  2. Pork – 2.3 g/pound 
  3. Salmon – 2.0 g/pound 
  4. Beef – 2.0 g/pound
  5. Tuna – 1.9 g/pound

You are probably wondering if your kidneys and liver make creatine and you get it through food do you need to take creatine as a supplement?

Animal protein has the highest amount of creatine.

The answer is it depends. If you are not strength training sprinting, or any high-intensity style of workout and you are eating a balanced diet, then you are probably getting enough creatine.

Now there are some circumstances where taking a supplemental form of creatine might be beneficial.

Because creatine is found in animal foods like meat and fish, vegans and vegetarians, who exclude animal products from their diet, tend to have a low intake of creatine. (13)

This leads to vegetarians and especially vegans also having a lower concentration of creatine in and around their muscles.

In a systematic review on the benefits of creatine supplementation for vegetarians, “Taken together, creatine supplementation has the ability to increase performance in vegetarians as well as omnivores[.]”

Other Forms of Creatine 

There are many different forms of creatine on the market, all of which are marketed to you as better than creatine monohydrate. 

Is that truly the case?

Creatine Ethyl Ester

Creatine ethyl ester is made by bonding creatine to an ethyl group.

The benefit of this is that it is supposed to be more soluble and therefore require a smaller dose.

However, A 2009 study compared creatine monohydrate and creatine ethyl ester in 30 non-resistance trained men.

The researchers stated, “when compared to creatine monohydrate, creatine ethyl ester was not as effective at increasing serum and muscle creatine levels or in improving body composition, muscle mass, strength, and power.” (14)

Buffered Creatine

Buffered creatine is made by adding an alkaline substance to creatine monohydrate. The thinking behind this is that it will make the creatine less harsh on your stomach.

A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2012 showed that buffered creatine was no more effective than creatine monohydrate. (15)

Creatine Pyruvate

Creatine pyruvate is made with two molecules creatine and pyruvic acid. The benefit of this is that it is supposed to be more soluble and therefore require a smaller dose.

A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2007 found that creatine pyruvate was no more effective than creatine monohydrate in increasing muscle creatine levels. (16)

Creatine Citrate

Creatine citrate is made by combining creatine monohydrate with citric acid. The benefit of this is that it is supposed to be more soluble and therefore require a smaller dose.

A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2002 found that creatine citrate was no more effective than creatine monohydrate. (17)

Liquid Creatine

Some companies market a liquid form of creatine. This is typically done by adding water or a “solution”   to creatine. They claim that it is more easily absorbed because creatine does not need to be broken down like the powder form.

However, when researchers look at the creatine molecule, regardless of the type of creatine or the liquid it is added to, creatine will break down into a waste product called creatinine that you will just pee out later.

The breakdown of creatine when added to water will typically happen within 6 to 45 days. (18)

Creatine Magnesium Chelate

Magnesium creatine chelate is made by bonding magnesium and creatine together.

The benefit of this is that it is supposed to increase absorption.

A clinical trial published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning in 2004 found both magnesium creatine chelate and creatine monohydrate were equally effective at improving performance when compared to the placebo group.

However, magnesium creatine chelate was no more effective than creatine monohydrate. (19)

Creatine monohydrate is the most effective form of creatine in increasing muscle creatine levels. It is also the most affordable and has the most research to support its use.

Benefits of creatine 

Helps muscle cells produce more energy

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined the role of dietary creatine supplementation in skeletal muscle metabolism and performance.

The study found that creatine supplementation can improve ATP resynthesis during exercise, resulting in improved performance. which means you have more energy to move!

This effect is enhanced when creatine supplementation is combined with exercise and carbohydrate ingestion.

The study’s findings suggest that creatine supplementation can play a valuable role in improving skeletal muscle metabolism and performance. (20)

Improves high-intensity exercise performance

Creatine supplementation has been shown to improve indices of high-intensity exercise performance in both males and females.

In a review published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2012, researchers found that creatine supplementation increased exercise performance in a group of healthy adults.

The study participants who took creatine supplements showed significant improvements in their ability to perform short-term, high-intensity exercises, compared to those who did not take creatine supplements.

These results suggest that creatine supplementation can be an effective way to improve exercise performance in both men and women. (21)

Improve strength

A comprehensive review of the research, published in the Journal of Family Practice in 2002, found that oral creatine supplementation combined with resistance training can lead to significant increases in maximal weight lifted in young men. (5)

Although the majority of studies included in the meta-analysis looked specifically at young men, there is some evidence that creatine can also be beneficial for women and older adults. (6,7)

Increase lean muscle mass

The clinical trial published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology in 2004 found that creatine supplementation can help to improve body composition when combined with resistance training.

These results suggest that creatine supplementation can help to improve performance and lean body mass, especially when combined with weight lifting. (4)

Muscles recovery

There is strong evidence that creatine supplementation can help athletes recover following intense exercise, and they are able to tolerate high volumes of training.

A review published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2012 looked at the findings from 11 different studies on the effects of creatine supplementation on athletes.

These findings suggest that creatine supplementation can help athletes tolerate heavy increases in training volume. (22)

Can improve brain function

All though there is a mountain of evidence supporting the idea that creatine can improve muscle performance and size, a newer area of research on creatine’s ability to improve brain function.

In a 2003 clinical trial published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 45 vegetarian participants were given either a placebo or oral creatine monohydrate supplementation.

The results showed that those who had received the supplement experienced significant improvements in both memory and intelligence.

This study provides evidence that creatine can have a positive effect on brain function. However, more research is needed in this area. (8)

Defense Against Neurological Disease

In recent years, creatine has gained popularity as a dietary supplement, as it has been shown to improve athletic performance. However, emerging research suggests that creatine may also have benefits for those suffering from age-related diseases.

Creatine has been shown to have antioxidant properties, reduce mental fatigue, protect the brain from neurotoxicity, and improve facets/components of neurological disorders like depression and bipolar disorder.

Given these potential benefits, creatine supplementation merits further study as a potential therapeutic intervention for age-related diseases. (23)

Drawbacks of Taking Creatine

Technically speaking, no there are no harmful side effects from taking a supplement form of creatine monohydrate. But do not only listen to me, here is the statement from the International Society of Sports Nutrition on creatine monohydrate.

When creatine is taken in, there are no negative side effects or health concerns.

The position statement of the International Society of Sports Nutrition on creatine monohydrate states that when creatine is taken in moderation, there are no negative side effects or health concerns.

However, some people may experience bloating, diarrhea, or cramping when they first start taking creatine supplements.

Let’s go through some of the common side effects associated with creatine supplementation:

Does Creatine Cause Dehydration or Cramps?

There seem to be some conflicting ideas about whether creatine supplementation can cause dehydration or cramps.

As of 2004 American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) issued a statement that people who are undergoing weight management, are exercising intensely, or live in hot conditions should not take creatine.

However, a review published in 2009 called “Putting to rest the myth of creatine supplementation leading to muscle cramps and dehydration.”

The review stated, “little evidence exists that creatine supplementation in the heat presents an additional risk, and this should be taken into consideration as position statements and other related documents are published.” (24)

In fact, a clinical train published in the journal of the European Dialysis Transplant Association found that by taking creatine monohydrate patients had 60% fewer muscle cramps compared to those who did not take creatine. (25)

Does Creatine Cause Weight Gain?

In short, yes, but it is a good weight gain. When you supplement with creatine it will cause your muscles to hold more water.

A study that looked at 17 active males that were given creatine monohydrate for 4 weeks. was 30 grams for the first two and 15 grams for the second two. They were also supervised during 2 strength training sessions per week.

After the 4 weeks, there was a total body weight gain. However, when they looked at body fat and calorie intake there was no change. The majority of the weight gain was due to an increase in water weight. (26)

Does It Affect Your Kidneys?

For healthy individuals, both short-term and long-term use of 3-10 grams of creatine monohydrate per day does not cause kidney damage. (27)

Now people live with kidney disease, and supplementing with creatine also seems to be safe. (27,28)

However, a characteristic of creatine monohydrate supplementation is water retention which can interfere with medication diuretics. Please talk to your doctor before you start taking creatine.

Who Should Take Creatine 

Is Creatine Safe for Kids?

The vast majority of scientific research indicates that creatine is safe for both adults and children. (29)

In fact, the strongest testament to the safety of creatine is the recent designation by the United States FDA that creatine is “generally recognized as safe (GRAS).

However, it’s important to note that research on the long-term effects of creatine supplementation in kids is still relatively limited.

As a result, some parents may prefer to wait until their child is a bit older before starting them on creatine.

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to give your child creatine should be made in consultation with a doctor or other medical professional.

Can Women Take Creatine?

Yes, women can take creatine, studies suggest that it is equally effective for both genders.

In fact, research has shown that creatine supplementation in postmenopausal women can counteract the age-related decline in bone density, muscle mass, and strength. (30)

Cost

When choosing a creatine supplement, something to consider is the price.

Cost comparison of Creatine monohydrate vs creatine HCL.

I made this easy for you by looking at amazon and collecting the top-selling creatine monohydrate and comparing that to the top-selling creatine HCL.

 As an Amazon affiliate, if you click on one of the links, I may receive a commission, at no cost to you.

On average creatine monohydrates for sale on amazon cost $44.52. With the most expensive being My Protein’s creatine monohydrate at $64.75 and the cheapest being GNC Pro Performance at $24.99.

The number of servings of creatine monohydrate that you get averaged to be 88.4 servings at an average cost per serving of 0.44 cents.

The cost per serving varied from the most expensive being the GNC Pro Performance at $1.03 per serving and the cheapest being 0.26 cents for the Nutricost creatine monohydrate.

When compared, creatine HCL is more expensive than creatine monohydrate.

On average creatine HCL for sale on amazon cost $36.08. The most expensive is Post JYM Active Matrix Creatine HCL at $41.99 and the cheapest is Kaged Muscle Creatine HCL at $29.99.

Don’t be fooled at the average lower cost of creatine HCL because on average you are only getting 44 servings per container. The average cost per serving is 0.76 cents.

Although creatine HCL claims to be more effective, there is little research to support those claims. 

Not only that, but creatine HCL on average is 0.32 cents more than creatine monohydrate per serving.

Considering you have to take creatine every day per year you would spend $117.00 per year if you went with creatine HCL.

FAQ

Alcohol and creatine?

It may not be a good idea to drink alcohol and take creatine together. Although the research is very limited and creatine supplementation is generally recognized as safe.

In recent research carried out on mice, creatine supplementation with alcohol was found to affect alcohol metabolism and oxidative stress while increasing liver damage. (31)

Again there is not much research in the area of alcohol and creatine and the study above is with mice, not humans.

Can I take creatine before bed?

Yes, you can take creatine before bed. Creatine is not a stimulant like caffeine, so it will not affect your sleep.

Should you take creatine while cutting?

Creatine helps you by increasing your strength and muscle mass which will, in turn, help you lose fat.

The goal of a cutting phase should be to maintain your muscle mass while cutting calories and losing fat.

By supplementing creatine, you may have an easier time maintaining muscle despite not eating as much food.

How much water should I drink when taking creatine?

You should drink at least continue drinking the recommended amount of water based on gender, activity level, and body size. 

Best creatine for runners?

Creatine monohydrate is going to be the most researched and therefore is going to be the best option for runners.

Bcaa vs creatine?

BCAA or branched-chain amino acids are a group of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

Creatine is a two amino acid compound: glycine and arginine.

They are two different combinations of different amino acids that serve different purposes.

BCAAs have been thought to prevent muscle breakdown, increase protein synthesis, and can be used for energy. Evidence does not support that BCAA is effective.

Creatine is taken to help with energy production, and increase strength and muscle mass.

Which is better creatine HCL or monohydrate?

Creatine monohydrate is by far the most researched and is relatively inexpensive. 

While creatine HCL has been claimed to be more effective, there is little research to support those claims.

Creatine HCL on average is also 0.32 cents more expensive than creatine monohydrate per serving.

Considering you have to take creatine every day per year you would spend $117.00 per year if you went with creatine HCL.

The bottom line is that creatine monohydrate is the better option.

Conclusion

So, what’s the verdict? Is creatine HCL better than monohydrate?

The answer is – creatine monohydrate.

To date, creatine monohydrate is one of the most researched supplements. It is well regarded to be effective in increasing muscle mass and strength. It is also safe for most people to take.

Not only has creatine monohydrate been studied extensively, but it is less expensive.

There are many forms of creatine including creatine HCL on the market. All of which claim to be more effective than creatine monohydrate.

There is no strong evidence to support any claims that these other forms of creatine are more effective than monohydrate.

Creatine HCL may have some advantages over monohydrate in terms of absorption. However, the evidence is not strong enough to say for certain that it is better.

If you are looking to supplement with creatine, creatine monohydrate is a safe effective, and cheaper option.

If you need any help with designing your supplement regimen schedule a free call with me – Noah RDN.

Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read here.

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